Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: UW Business Partnerships Could Help State’s Economy

The editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel lauds Chancellor Rebecca Blank for her efforts to foster collaboration between UW-Madison and industry in an effort to improve the state’s economy.

“UW prepares thousands of young people each year for a world that is changing before their very eyes as global competition forces U.S. companies to be smarter and leaner. Those are major challenges for a state such as Wisconsin, which is still so dependent on manufacturing and old-line industries. Good for Blank for recognizing the central role UW can play.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank visited the Milwaukee area last week, speaking to the Wisconsin Innovation Network about the role research plays in driving economic growth, visiting longtime research partner GE Medical, and touring UW-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences

The full editorial is here.

Governor Walker Reaffirms Support of Tuition Freeze

Governor Scott Walker visited four University of Wisconsin System campuses last week, touting his support for a two-year tuition freeze. Speaking to students in Green Bay, Eau Claire, La Crosse, and Racine, Walker said if elected he would support an additional two-year tuition freeze. Tuition was frozen in 2013 after UW System was found to have about $1 billion in reserve.

UW-Eau Claire Chancellor Jim Schmidt told the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram that an extended tuition freeze would have a detrimental impact on his campus:

“Another two-year tuition freeze would certainly have a major impact on the finances of UW-Eau Claire. We are already anticipating an additional cut of at least $3 million in the coming year to address the current tuition freeze.”

In Green Bay, Walker told students that he supported affordability over additional financial aid to students:

“We know it’s not just about providing more financial assistance, it’s about providing a great price for a UW education that’s low to begin with.”

At UW-Madison, tuition revenue funds approximately one-quarter of the cost-to-continue. UW System is currently working with the Department of Administration on an estimate of cost-to-continue as part of the state biennial budget process.

Legislative Update

2015-17 Biennial Budget

Last month, Governor Scott Walker directed state agencies to prepare their 2015-17 biennial budget requests, and the Board of Regents approved UW System’s budget proposal last week. The proposal includes $95.2 million for the “Talent Development Initiative,” the implementation of new performance measures, and statutory language changes related to compensation, including the ability to offer merit pay increases.

Budget request highlights:

  • $30 million for a competitive grant program targeting six areas critical to the state’s economy: agriculture, finance, insurance/real estate, healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, and water research.
  • $27.3 to cover a pay plan funding gap. Historically, UW System funds about 30 percent of a pay plan increase with tuition dollars. The two-year tuition freeze has led to a funding gap, with many campuses holding insufficient reserves to cover the pay plan.
  • $24.4 million to increase the number of college graduates statewide, with much of the funding directed to the Course Options program, a program that allows high school students to earn college credits. Additional funding would expand the Flex Option degree program, improve the credit transfer system, and assist working and first-generation college students.
  • $22.5 million in one-time funding to assist with the creation of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs. The money will be available to individual campuses through a competitive grant process.

The budget process is lengthy, beginning with formal introduction in January and final passage in late June. PROFS will be involved throughout the entire process and communicate regularly with faculty.

Tuition Freeze
Last spring, Governor Walker announced an additional two-year freeze on University of Wisconsin System tuition. The governor said his proposal was a direct result of the disclosure that UW System would finish 2013-14 fiscal year with almost $1 billion in reserve. The governor first called for a tuition freeze after UW System was found to have just over $1 billion in reserve.

Fall Elections
Governor Scott Walker faces challenger Mary Burke, former Secretary of Commerce and Madison School Board member. Earlier this week, former UW-Madison professor Charles Franklin released a new poll showing the race continues to be a toss-up.

The legislature will experience its largest turnover since the 1970’s. Six state senators and 21 members of the assembly announced their retirement earlier this year. The fall primary was held earlier this month, and the outcome of one primary — the 17th Senate District — is still unclear.

Voter ID
Governor Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen
recently asked a federal court to reinstate the voter identification law that was passed two years ago, but never enforced as a result of several state and federal court challenges. Many legal experts believe the current federal challenge will keep the law on hold through the fall elections. PROFS lobbied against voter ID legislation.

State Revenue Collections Down

The Department of Revenue announced today that General Purpose Revenue (GPR) collections for fiscal year 2014 are $281 million less than projected. All tax categories were lower than projected except for public utility; liquor and wine; and insurance.

The shortfall means the state faces a $115 million deficit at the start of fiscal year 2015-16, and all but guarantees that the state budget process will be more difficult than expected.

fy 2014 state revenue collections